How do I Learn the Haka Dance?

Updated July 19, 2017

A traditional Maori dance and chant used ritually before battle, the Haka is best known today as the war dance performed by the New Zealand rugby team the All Blacks before each match.

Known as Ka Mate, the dance is nearly 200 years old. It tells the story of a tribal chief escaping his pursuers from rival tribes by hiding in a pit used to store sweet potatoes. It is used today to intimidate the rugby team's rivals.

Clench your hands into fists against your hips and make a war face. Arch your eyebrows, bare your teeth, stick out your tongue and look as fierce as possible.

Squat down with your feet shoulder width apart, until your thighs are almost parallel with the ground. With clenched fists, hold your arms in front of you, parallel to your chest. The position is similar to having folded arms, except the arms touch neither each other nor your chest. Your right arm should be above your left.

While still crouched, shout "ka mate" twice, slapping both your knees twice in time with the chants. "Ka mate" means "it is death."

Keeping the same position, shout "ka ora" twice. On the first chant, slap your chest with both hands and on the second, reach both hands toward the sky. Keep your palms open and facing toward you. "Ka ora" means "it is life."

Repeat Steps 3 and 4.

Still in the crouched position, shout "tenei te" while thrusting your right hand upward from your groin until level with your midriff.

Shout "tangata" while repeating the hand thrust, but this time using your left hand rather than your right.

Keep your left hand where it is. Open your right hand and thrust it twice behind your left elbow, while chanting "puhuruhuru". Repeat the action twice more while chanting "nana i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra." "Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru" means "here is the hairy man," and "nana i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra" means "who caused the sun to shine."

Chant "upane" while raising your right fist so that your elbow is at a right angle and your hand is at head height. Slap your right elbow with your left hand twice. Repeat the action with your hands swapped so that your left hand is now balled at head height while your right slaps your left elbow twice. The chant is made twice: once while your right hand is raised and once again after you have swapped hands. "Upane" is generally translated in this context as "up the ladder," but literally means "terrace."

Repeat Step 9, but rather than slapping each elbow twice, do it just once before swapping. This time chant "upane" only while your right fist is raised; after you have swapped hands, chant "kaupane." "Kaupane" means "to the top."

Chant the final part of the song, which is "whiti te ra." While you shout this, pull your fists backward from chest height, thrusting both elbows backward, and then leap into the air. "Whiti te ra" means "the sun shines."

Land from your jump in a sideways position. Hold your left arm across your torso with your palm open and your hand wiggling. Raise your right arm into the air, bent, with your fist clenched. Make your fearsome war face once more.


The Haka is intended to be a fearsome sight. Try to look as angry and scary as possible throughout, and clench all your muscles while you dance it. It's best when performed by a group of people all at once.


When done properly, dancing the Haka is energetic work. You might want to warm up beforehand.

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About the Author

Ed Hill has been writing press releases and news pieces since 1999. His work has appeared in "Wessex Scene," "Show House," "Media Week" and other trade titles pertinent to his professional advertising experience. He holds a Master of Arts in English from Southampton University.